Well, not quite but they’re certainly heading that way. The economic crisis is pushing them closer together and making what just a few years ago would have seemed like very strange bedfellows.
China offered 130 billion yuan ($19 billion) of loans for Taiwan companies operating on the mainland as the ruling parties of both governments laid out proposals to boost financial ties.
Beijing would provide the financing over three years and also purchase $2 billion worth of flat-panel displays from the island’s companies, Wang Yi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said at the conclusion of a weekend forum.
The meeting between officials of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang and their Chinese counterparts sets a blueprint for further government-level talks after a nine-year suspension. Taiwanese businessmen have invested an estimated $150 billion in China and are clamoring for the island’s financial firms to be permitted to offer services to ease access to funding and capital.
“Cooperation at this time is especially meaningful as the global financial crisis will soon spread to the manufacturing industry,” said Schive Chi, chairman of the Taiwan Stock Exchange. “As both China and Taiwan have few foreign debts and both have high savings ratio, we should really actively use up the huge savings to help boost our economies.”
Comb through the article to see just how extensive the cooperation is, and what it will mean for Taiwan businesses that have invested huge amounts in China and are now being hit hard by the crash.
What is significant to me is the tone of the dialogue on both sides (“The consensus reflects the expectation from people from the two sides and will have an active influence over the policy- making of the governments of both sides,” said Jia Qinglin, a Chinese Communist Party Politburo member.”) You would never have read an article like this just a year or two ago. They sound like two lovers separated by a war who have just re-found one another.
Like it or not, this is one more milestone in a new era of increasing cooperation and mutual dependency, and it’s only going to intensify. Will they reunite and live happily ever after as one? Not anytime soon, and maybe never. But it’s a stake in the heart of the Taiwan independence movement, for better or for worse. Whether independence is a noble goal or not is irrelevant. All that matters is reality, and the reality is that Taiwan and the PRC are moving closer together, and that will carry enough advantages for all sides to keep independence off the table.
Staying in touch with many of my friends in Taiwan, I know that only one thing matters right now, and that is the economy and the jobs that come with it. If they see this as step toward economic improvement, the enthusiasm over the independence movement, which has already sagged dramatically, is dead in the water. A pity perhaps, but there we are.
They might keep up the old arguments about which pinyin to use and how Taiwan should be referred to by Google Earth, etc., but if the Taiwanese and the Chinese see the relationship as economically mutually beneficial, they’ll happily go along. There’s a reason regular direct flights between Shanghai and Taipei started a few weeks ago. Tough times call for pragmatism. And times haven’t been this tough for Taiwan for decades.
This is just the start. Once we begin to emerge from the crisis in four or five years, expect to see a whole new world order of alliances and agreements, and a whole new balance of power. Yes, America will still be up there at the tippy top, but it won’t be there alone and it won’t carry the weight it did from the end of WWII to 2001.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.